New Marsden Fund Council appointments announced

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods today announced several  new appointments to the Marsden Fund Council and a new chair, Professor David Bilkey.

Dr Richard Newcomb, Professor Cynthia White, Professor Richard Easther, Associate Professor Julia Horsfield, Professor Geoff Chase, and Professor Jarrod Haar will join the Council this month.

Dr Woods said all were highly regarded researchers domestically and internationally, and had a wide range of expertise that complements the strengths of existing members.

Professor Bilkey is a current member of the Council and has considerable experience in reviewing grants at an international level.

The Marsden Fund supports top researchers to conduct research across science, mathematics, engineering, social science and the humanities.

Dr Woods also announced the reappointment of Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, Professor Penelope Brothers and Professor Gillian Dobbie as Council members.

She acknowledged the outgoing Chair, Professor Juliet Gerrard, and members Dr Ian Fergusson, Professor Roger Nokes, Professor Vicky Cameron, Professor Robert Hannah and Professor Jarg Pettinga for their service as members on the Council over the past three years.



133 projects are selected for Marsden funding from an increased pool of $84.6m

Massey University is delighted its researchers have received more than $15.6 million from the Royal Society of New Zealand’s annual Marsden Fund for 26 projects, a record number of projects funded and total funding.

The 26 successful Marsden grants – made up of 10 “Fast-Start” grants for new and emerging researchers and 16 standard grants – represent 18.4 per cent of the total funding pool this year.

The projects include studying super-heavy elements, Māori resilience in post-disaster contexts and sexuality and ethical deliberation in residential aged care.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas congratulated the researchers, saying competition for research funding is intense and  133 research projects selected to receive funding nationwide were chosen from more than 1000 preliminary proposals.

The 133 projects are being funded for a total of $84.6 millionm a significant increase from last year’s $65 million.

The Fund received a boost in the 2016 Budget of an additional $66m over four years, which allowed more proposals to be funded and increased the success rate from 10.7% last year to 12% this year.

Full Marsden Fund results are available on the Royal Society Te Apārangi website.

The Science Media Centre is posting expert reaction to the results on its website.

  • Associate Professor Nicola Gaston, Department of Physics, University of Auckland, comments:

“It’s great to see that the Marsden Fund continues to act as it should, in supporting researchers across the science and humanities research spectrum. It is fantastic to see the anticipated increase in success rates deliver, and in particular to see the effect of this on the number of early career grants coming through.

“Success rates remain low, however, and the increase in research funding to OECD averages promised by the new government cannot come soon enough. In particular, the Marsden Fund continues to hold itself to account and report carefully on gender and ethnic equity; this demonstration of best practice should make the Fund a worthy target of that promised increase.

“It’s even nicer to see that there has been a significant increase in the number of Māori researchers funded: this metric has been too low for too long, and it is to be hoped that this year’s data is a sign of real progress – though this is yet to be seen, time will tell.

“It is also really exciting to see the range of projects that have been funded. This is work that underpins and enhances the expertise of our universities and research institutes, and we are all richer for it.”

  • Professor Shaun Hendy, Director, Te Pūnaha Matatini, University of Auckland, comments:

“This is the largest number of Marsden projects awarded in one year and is also one of the highest success rates – in fact, with just over 12% of proposals funded, it is the highest success rate for applicants to the fund since 2003. This is due to the largest real increase in funding since the Marsden Fund was created.

“It is also pleasing that this large increase in funding didn’t simply lead to more proposals being submitted, which would have lowered the success rate and increased the burden across the sector. It was established researchers that benefited most from this increase in funding, with early career applicants receiving the lowest proportion of funds since 2008.”

Three-year Marsden Fund Investment Plan released

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith says the new three-year Investment Plan for the Marsden Fund, launched by the Marsden Fund Council, will help guide the strategic direction of the fund and contribute to the National Statement of Science Investment.

The Marsden Fund Council, which oversees the fund, developed the plan following an assessment earlier this year undertaken by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The fund was found to be highly regarded, well-run and effective at selecting high-quality research within its current settings, but recommended an investment plan to provide strategic direction, and ensure the fund continues to be effective and fit-for-purpose.

“The National Statement of Science Investment sets clear expectations for Government investment in research – we invest in excellence and we invest for impact. This plan signals a number of adjustments that will align the Fund with our broader vision for the research sector,” says Mr Goldsmith.

The Investment Plan outlines key changes which will be put in place for the 2018 funding round. These include:

  • Introducing a new award to support large interdisciplinary projects, worth up to $3 million;
  • Allowing researchers to apply for follow-on awards to sustain momentum for outstanding research;
  • Modifying assessment criteria to align more closely with the National Statement of Science Investment (NSSI), including the potential for significant scholarly impact;
  • Trialling a broader assessment panel structure;
  • Undertaking additional moderation between panels to ensure the quality and consistency of research selected from all disciplines; and
  • Providing more feedback to unsuccessful applicants and institutions following on preliminary proposals.

“The Marsden Fund has delivered high-quality research for the last 23 years and I’m confident that the strategic direction outlined in the Investment Plan will ensure it continues to do so for many years to come,” Mr Goldsmith says.

Further details on the implementation of the plan will be provided to the research community through a series of roadshows around the country, organised by the Royal Society Te Apārangi. The Marsden Fund Council is developing a Performance Framework for the Fund which will be published later this year.

More information and the Investment Plan can be found HERE. The Marsden Fund Assessment Report can be found HERE.

Marsden Fund preliminary proposals for 2017

The NZ Royal Society reports there were 1106 preliminary proposals for Marsden Fund financing this year – 776 Standards and 330 Fast-Starts.

Marsden Fund Standard grants are open to established researchers as well as emerging researchers. Funding is for three years and the amount of funding is flexible, depending on project needs.

Marsden Fund Fast-Start grants come from a special pool of funds set aside for emerging researchers (up to seven years after the conferment of their PhD).

The number of proposals received this year was similar to last year’s 1097, the third year of a slightly reduced number of applicants.

In total, 259 applicants have been invited to submit full proposals – 165 Standards and 94 Fast-Starts.

The society anticipates approximately 140 proposals will eventually be contracted. The projected amount of funding available is approximately $84.8 million (excl. GST).

Further data on the proposals accepted compared with those asked to submit full proposals can be found HERE.

Marsden Fund preliminary proposals for 2017

Preliminary proposals from AgResearch, Landcare Research, Plant & Food Research and Scion are among those submitted to the Marsden Fund.

This year there were 1106 preliminary proposals, 776 standards and 330 fast-starts.

This was similar to last year’s 1097, the third year of a slightly reduced number of applicants.

In total, 252 applicants have been invited to submit full proposals – 161 standards and 91 fast-starts.

The Royal Society, which has posted details HERE, expects about 140 proposals will eventually be contracted. The projected amount of funding available is approximately $84.8 million (excluding GST).

Assessment report calls for improvements to the Marsden Fund

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith has released a report which details a number of measures to ensure the Marsden Fund, the Government’s premier fund for excellent investigator-led research, continues to be effective and fit-for-purpose.

The report found the Marsden Fund is highly-regarded, well-run and effective at selecting high-quality research within its current settings, but a number of improvements are needed to ensure it continues to deliver benefits in the future.

The Marsden Fund Council, which oversees the Fund’s operation, has been asked to develop a strategic direction which shows how the Fund will be managed to achieve its objectives and contribute to the National Statement of Science Investment vision and Goals.

The strategic direction will require the Marsden Council to:

  • Develop an Investment Plan that sets out the strategic direction of the Fund, addresses the issues identified in the assessment, and shows how the Fund will be managed to achieve its objectives; and
  • Develop a Performance Framework that will include periodic review by international experts to provide assurance of the value of the Government’s investment.

The implementation of any changes to the operation of the Fund will be clearly signalled through the Investment Plan. To assist the Council in its expanded role and to provide a strong, independent voice, the Minister of Science and Innovation will also be including more international Councillors on the Council through future appointment rounds.

“For the last 23 years the Marsden Fund has been undertaking high-quality scientific research and with these changes the Fund can plan for the next 23,” says Mr Goldsmith.

The Marsden Fund Assessment of Strategy and Management Report can be found on the MBIE website, HERE.

Lincoln researcher is awarded Marsden Fund grant for biosecurity work

Lincoln University lecturer Dr Amanda Black has been awarded a three-year grant from the Marsden Fund to explore how Māori knowledge can improve New Zealand biosecurity.

Invasions of unwanted organisms are rising globally as a result of increased global trade, tourism and climate change,. One in five plant species is at risk of extinction.

Dr Black says there are more ramifications for Māori and other indigenous groups than economic loss from the introduction and spread of invasive species than economic loss.

She says:

“Invasive species can also displace or destroy indigenous species and threaten the identity and functioning of indigenous cultures, by negatively impacting food gathering or ceremonial practices for example.”

The research project, ‘Reindigenising the Biosecurity System’, will use a range of interdisciplinary methods to explore what biosecurity means for Māori, using kauri dieback disease as an example. The disease, caused by a plant pathogen that was first detected in New Zealand in the 1950s, is damaging and killing kauri, from seedlings to mature iconic trees. It is currently spreading through the few remaining fragments of ancient forest in Northland.

“Kauri is an ancient, long-lived species and is at great risk of disappearing from our landscape and living memory,” says Dr Black. “Kauri trees are valued highly as a taonga, or treasured plant, by all New Zealanders, but have a specific role as tuakana (elder sibling), with a senior ancestral lineage and relationship for Northland Māori.”

The project will explore how indigenous knowledge, from past and present, combined with traditional science disciplines and social research can help protect kauri forests from modern biosecurity risks and threats.

“The extensive and profound knowledge that indigenous people have from a long-standing and intimate relationship with their environment is often overlooked by recent colonists, and presents a unique and innovative opportunity to improve current biosecurity paradigms and policy,” says Dr Black.

Her research will also compare how the cultural identity, perspectives and priorities of other indigenous peoples can be integrated in countries facing similar issues, an approach which could transform mainstream biosecurity research here and internationally.

The Marsden Fund supports excellence in leading-edge research in New Zealand. Projects are selected annually after a rigorous peer-review process. This year a total of 117 projects were funded and have been allocated $65.2 million.